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League Cup: Bok planning to use fringe players

Kenneth Tan

SAFFC player Ruzaini Zainal
Photography by Aundry Gan

A recent upsurge in form saw Singapore Armed Forces FC slay Bruneian side DPMM FC in Bandar Seri Begawan and come out tops over uniformed archrivals Home United in a trilogy of matches in the RHB Singapore Cup and Great Eastern-YEO’S S.League.

However, they were sent crashing back to earth on Sunday evening when the Courts Young Lions overturned a 0-1 deficit to win 2-1 and pick up all three points, spoiling Warriors head coach Richard Bok’s return to the dugout.

The 42-year-old recently returned from Japan, where he and a group of fellow S.League coaches did the second phase of their AFC Pro Diploma coaching licence course.

Bok will be hoping that Thursday’s opening StarHub League Cup Group A home fixture against Tanjong Pagar United at will mark a continued rise in their form, with the Young Lions a blip in their form book.

With prior preparations done prior to his departure, the three-time MIKASA Coach of the Year had fewer wrinkles on his forehead in regards to team performance and results, whilst keeping updated about the League Cup draw along the way.

It helped that he was able to get constant feedback from his able assistant V. Selvaraj.

“Before I went to Japan, we had a plan,” noted Bok.

“Selvaraj carried it out very well, and the performances in the last five games had been excellent.

“On Sunday night, though, everyone had a day off. We blew the chance to close the gap at the top, so we now have to turn our attentions to Thursday’s (League Cup) game.”

The League Cup could prove to be a timely distraction for now – a series of wins may just bring them silverware for the first time since 2009, and a bit of good prize money on the side.

Bok will not be going in with all guns blazing for this competition, though, as he revealed plans to grant fringe players a chance to shine and possibly break through into the first team.

“We need some fresh legs, as the first eleven didn’t change much for the last five games,” he told while watching SAFFC’s Prime League boys take on the National Football Academy Under-17s in a Prime League match at Yishun.

“I’ll let players like Eddie (Chang), Ruzaini (Zainal) and a few Prime League players see time. Even (Marin) Jonjic may play; I hope they’re hungry to play.”

His charges have the mental edge over their Group A opponents Tanjong Pagar, having beaten them 3-1 at Queenstown back in late March.

There have been several changes to both sides since that game. Aliff Shafaein, who donned the stripes of Tanjong Pagar back then, has switched sides, while the Jaguars’ foreign trio of Jang In Jun, Lee Joo Sang and Serge Souchon are all no more.

Replacing the trio are former Hougang United midfielder Carlos Delgado, ex-Etoile FC fullback Anthony Aymard and Haitian striker Gilbert Bayonne, who is playing in Singapore for the first time.

Bok has been keeping a close eye on his opponents’ new foreign contingent after he watched them narrowly lose to Tampines Rovers 1-2 at their Queenstown home a week ago.

“They’re certainly a strengthened side, creating good chances and capable of hitting on the counter,” he observed.

“Carlos holds the midfield and connects the play well, while Gilbert is a tough customer who bangs everyone!

“It’s a different ball game in the Cup. It’ll be unpredictable and tough, so let’s see how the players fare on Thursday.”

Bok will have a fully-fit squad at his disposal for the match at Choa Chu Kang, barring veteran centreback Bah Mamadou, who is still six weeks away from recovery following knee endoscopy.

As for Tanjong Pagar’s Terry Pathmanathan, the League Cup means a shot at redemption after exiting the RHB Singapore Cup on penalties to Hougang in the first round.

“We want to try to do well in the League Cup, since we did not do so in Singapore Cup,” noted the former Singapore international.

“At that time, we got a lot of injury problems, and the team was a little unsettled.

“But this is another shot at a title. We’ll take one game at a time, and making the next round will be good at least.

“Also, I do not want to overly rate our chances because we are not really settled yet.”

Consecutive league defeats against Hougang, Albirex Niigata (Singapore) and Malaysian side Harimau Muda was stopped by a good defensive display at Jurong West, where they held Gombak United to a goalless stalemate.

They then held Tampines off for a time, before an Imran Sahib strike on the stroke of half-time gave the Jaguars nothing at Queenstown.

“Since we started the second round of league, we’ve got most of the players back in action, but we also had to incorporate the three new foreigners,” analysed Pathmanathan.

“Generally we did well, but the results are not there.

“We did quite well against Tampines, but our defenders are still making a lot of uncalled mistakes due to lack of concentration and poor reading of the game, areas where we have to start working more on.

“Also, teamwork and understanding will gradually improve, especially between Takaya (Kawanabe), Gilbert and Carlos, as they are mainly attackers. My main concern is whether Takaya and Gilbert can play together to create something.”

For now, the factor of utmost importance to Pathmanathan is the players’ fatigue levels, as their last three games were played in the space of only eight days, a fact which certainly does not help a Jaguars side a little short on experienced numbers.

“We played three games in a week, so some of them are still recovering from injury,” he added.

“I have a thin squad with limited options, but it’s my task to prepare them to go out and fight, to have the positive mindset to go out and win the game.”

Being aware of the ‘wounded animal’ in his opponents, the 56-year-old was wary about losing the all-important first game – with only two games to play for each team in the group stage.

“SAFFC will definitely be spurred on to come out and redeem themselves, but likewise we lost our last game,” he reminded.

“I think it’s very important for both teams not to lose the first game.”

Hafiz Nor is Tanjong Pagar’s only reported absentee for this match following a heel problem.

  • League Cup
  • Tanjong Pagar United